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How Congresswoman Katie Porter May Have Just Saved Your Life

Porter got Americans free coronavirus testing using this influence technique.

Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Katie Porter, Official Portrait
Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

On Thursday, freshman Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif) successfully pressed CDC Director Robert Redfield to agree to offering free testing for COVID-19 to all Americans. More than 25 million people have viewed the footage of this conversation. Her math calculations on a whiteboard have generated a lot of attention, but that strategy was only an attention grabber.

Here is an analysis of the strategy behind Porter's big win, so that you can use her strategy, too.

Porter's key influential technique was "using standards." Influencing someone's behavior by helping them see how they're not living up to their own standards for themselves, and asking them to make a change. You're not complaining that they're not living up to your own standards, your standards will never be as motivating as their own internal compass.

If they feel they have violated their own standards for behavior—for who they want to be, or what they've said they want to do—they experience cognitive dissonance. Feeling out of integrity is painful. Something then has to change. The person could change their standards, but that's rare. Most commonly, they will try to hedge and pretend that what they're doing isn't really against their standards. If they can't, they will try to change their behavior to fulfill their standards.

As an influencer, you try to foresee and prevent the various ways they may try to hedge, so that then the other person will feel they must change their behavior. The first thing you do, typically, is to bring up the other person's standards. You might ask to confirm, making their standards salient to them in the conversation.

When Porter asked, "Dr. Redfield, do you want to know who has the coronavirus and who doesn't? Not just rich people but everybody who might have the virus?"

He answered, "All of America," confirming his own standards—for him, and everyone watching. This was key.

Before Porter asked Redfield to commit, "Will you commit to using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing free, regardless of insurance?" she was already prepared for some potential hedges.

One way to hedge when asked to make a commitment is to say, "I need more information," or "I need to think about it." Foreseeing that, Representatives Porter, DeLauro, and Underwood had written to Redfield letting him know exactly what she would be asking.

Another way to hedge is to say, "It's not entirely up to me." Foreseeing that, Porter read from the statute, "The Director may authorize payment for the care and treatment of individuals subject to medical exam quarantine, isolation, and conditional release." His call.

Redfield still tried to hedge, saying he needed to "see how to operationalize that." Porter trimmed this final hedge, "Dr. Redfield, you don't need to do any work to operationalize. You need to make a commitment to the American people so they come in to get tested. You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow."

Redfield replied, "I think you're an excellent questioner so my answer is yes."

Thanks to Congresswoman Porter and her powerful use of standards we now have free testing, regardless of insurance.


Diamond, S. (2010). Getting more: How to negotiate to achieve your goals in the real world. New York, NY: Crown Publishing.

Flynn, M. (2020, March 13). ‘Not good enough’: How Rep. Katie Porter’s relentless questioning led the CDC chief to commit to free coronavirus testing. The Washington Post. Retrieved from